Sunday, September 16, 2007

Real difference is between the lines

Sept.16, 2007

The real difference is between the lines

THE refusal by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree on binding principles that would guide peace negotiations with the Palestinians is an emphatic pointer to his mindset against meeting the minimum requirements for a lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Olmert is ready only to adopt a joint statement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the US-proposed conference on the Middle East expected to be held in Washington in November.
The Palestinians have had enough and more experience with Israeli declarations and contradictory actions. They saw it happening after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel signed the "interim" Oslo agreement in 1993 after secret negotiations. The agreement put off any discussion on the core issues of the conflict until "final status" talks in 1998. Indeed, some progress was made under the Oslo agrements, but the scenario changed dramatically when the key architect of the accord, the then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated in late 1995. However, the key issues remained unaddressed, and whatever progress was made until then was reversed by the Israeli governments which succeeded the Rabin cabinet.
It is clear why Olmert is not ready to agree on principles. He knows too well that he would never be able to agree to the basic demands of the Palestinians, which include: creation of an independent Palestinian state with clearly defined borders and Arab East Jerusalem as its capital and acceptance of the right of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war to return to their homeland or receive compensation in lieu of their lost property.
Any agreement on principles with Abbas would bind Olmert to these prerequisites for peace and would in fact ease the negotiating process since the objectives are clear. However, Olmert is not ready to undertake any commitment, and indications are strong that he sees the opportunity for peace only as a window to escape from his political troubles that should otherwise have no bearing whatsoever on making peace with the Palestinians.
As Olmert reportedly told a meeting of his Kadima party, "there is a difference between an agreement on principles and a declaration of intent." That might indeed be true, but it would apepar that there is little difference between his mindset and that of some of his "hard-line" predecessors and colleagues.
Obviously, it follows then that Olmert is trying to borrow a leaf from one of his Likud predecessors, Yitzhak Shamir, who took Israel to the famous 1991 Middle East peace conference in Madrid professing good faith and declared later that all he intended to do was to "continue negotiating with the Palestinians for the next 10 years while giving them nothing."